Bushmoot 2017 – Brilliant

a magical two weeks

A ‘Brilliant Moot’ is how I would summarise this year’s Bushcraft UK Bushmoot. It was action packed from start to finish for me as I juggled my time between looking after my kids, running workshops and doing a lot of filming.

I will let the pictures and video do most of the talking so will keep the text to a minimum.

Bushmoot 2017

The first few days for us ‘Mods’ (forum moderators) were all about setting up the Bushmoot so that everything was in place for everyone arriving later in the week. We did not rush things as it was a holiday for us as well but over a few days the Bushmoot was soon set up.

Set up

There are some great places to camp at the Bushmoot which makes for stunning photography. The Mods’ corner is great to photograph on a sunny morning.

I have used the same camping spot for a number of years now and even though a year passes between each visit it feels as if I have never been away when I return.

Camp life

Early Workshops

There were a couple of early workshops this year – Open Fire Cooking with Neil and a 48hr Survival Course with Fraser from Coastal Survival. Both courses covered a lot of different areas so my photos are just a snapshot of their content – needless to say on both courses all the students eat well.

Early workshops

Videos

I put a short video together of this early part of the Bushmoot – including a scenario where my son pretends to chop my head off with an Ivy sword ūüôā

Also a short video on the Lolli Stick Fire on Fraser’s course.

In amongst all these workshops and general setting up my kids took themselves off exploring. I went with them on one jaunt and they took me to the ‘House of Doom’ (as they referred to it). I think film companies use the site and they had left this massive Gothic barn – quite beautiful but eerie at the same time (the axe was for posing with only by the way).

Exploring

The Bushmoot is all about ‘Family’ as far as I am concerned – this family extends out to all my Bushmoot friends I see time and time again as I return each year.

Friends

Getting out of the woods one day with my friends Ian, Catherine and Liz (and assorted kids) we went Dune Diving. Merthyr Mawr sand dunes are the second highest dunes in Europe, apparently, and there is one dune in particular that the kids love.

Needless to say I joined the kids as they threw themselves down the dune – great fun even for a 50-year-old kid like me.

Dune riding

Core Day Workshops

I have no idea how many different workshops we ran this year and I only photographed or filmed a small number of them. We always start with a tool safety presentation (normally three different groups) before starting the main workshops.

Core days – part 1

Fire lighting in its many different forms is a staple of the Bushmoot and this year was no different – below are pictures from the bowdrill, the damp tinder and the flint and steel workshops.

Core days – part 2

Other workshops included Baking, Pottery, Rocket Stoves, the Starter Course, Basketry and Wood Spirits (to name just a few).

Core days – part 3

Watch the video to get a feel of the subjects we cover at the Bushmoot.

Bushmoot Life

Outside of all these workshops and background work life goes on at the Bushmoot – food I can tell you forms a big part of that life ūüôā

I am no great chef (tend to prefer building Campfire Cooking Constructions) but can when needed put something together – thankfully though there are plenty of people around like my wife Alison willing to put together a good spread for the kids and myself. Highlights of the Bushmoot are the Group Meal and the Hot Chocolate evening.

All things food

A favourite of mine has always been the archery range. We had another great competition this year. The winners from last year (Marek and Louey) were also presented their made-to-measure bows from Wayne Jones of Forest Knights.

This year we also had a catapult competition run by Steve (Mesquite) Harral and a workshop from David Colter on the Pellet Bow. Around the site we had various smaller ranges for axe, spade and pin throwing.

Down on the range

The Naughty Corner

No Bushmoot would be complete without the Naughty Corner and I try to get up to it for an hour or two each evening. This year my friend from the Sea Cadets Alan Lewis joined me at the Bushmoot for the first time and as he is a chef found himself drawn to the pizza oven.

Phil and Magda as usual kept us well fed each evening and Cap’n Badger made sure we were all not too naughty ūüėČ

The Naughty Corner

The Sand Pit

The evening socialising is not restricted to the Naughty Corner – usually for a couple of evenings lots of folk congregate under the big chute by the kids sandpit for a bit of a shindig.

We were supposed to have a band along one evening but for some reason they failed to show up – thankfully Marek and Gemma with some others started their own musical session that lasted well into the evening.

Sandpit evenings

The Main Chute

This is where we meet each day, talk about what will be happening, answer questions and celebrate people.

The Bushmoot is run by Tony and Shelly Bristow (along with us volunteer Mods) and as often happens the Bushmoot coincided with Tony’s birthday. We also remembered our dear friend Drew who passed away so tragically at a young age in 2013. We do this by giving each year an engraved Swiss Army Knife to the person we feel has contributed most to the Moot.

Our good friends John Fenna and Steve Harral raise money each year for Cancer charities. Steve gets John to dress up in a different pink outfit each year and we make lots of donations in various ways. Also John has an award he gives out called the John Fenna Award (a Teddy Bear with lots of bushcraft kit) and this year it went to Cap’n Badger for dedicated service to running the Naughty Corner – or undetected crime as I hear ūüėČ

Life under the main chute

Kids’ Fun

All this talk of fun would not be complete without mention to what we organise for the kids (I mean the young ones here). We are not against technology and I am happy to let my kids watch a movie in the evening by the fire (gives me a breathing space to get on with camp chores).

The Bushmoot is a family friendly place and there are always workshops and games planned in for the kids. When there are no planned activities the whole estate is their playground and it’s great to see my kids roam free as I once did as a kid growing up in the Western Isles.

Kids – old fun and modern fun

My last video on the Bushmoot looks at this ‘Bushmoot Life’.

A Celebration

When I popped up to the Naughty Corner one night I got chatting to our chefs Phil and Magda and found out that they had just got engaged – Phil had popped the question to Magda that day down on the beach and she had said yes.

The next day we got Phil and Magda to announce the engagement to everyone under the Main Chute – congratulations guys.

Congratulations

Me

I am mostly to be found behind the camera lens so you do not see many pictures of my silver mop at the Bushmoot. Over the last 10 years I have really embraced photography and am always on the look out for something unusual to snap.

Fire Faces are a favourite of mine – spotted the BFG in one snap I took this year – but there is always something interesting to photograph at the Bushmoot.

Just me

A bit of Magic

This year at the Naughty Corner it was hard to miss the fact that the fire was making a good impression of a Rainbow. It turns out that Cap’n Badger had acquired some Mystical Fire¬† and popped it into the fire. I took a few snaps of the flames and caught a lovely shot that I call ‘The Dancer’.

My kids loved the stuff and so we popped a couple of sachets on our campfire one evening while they watched a movie.

Rainbow flames

Alison

My wife Alison did not attend the whole of the Bushmoot (she pops back and forth from home over the fortnight) as she runs her own publishing company and this year was focused on finishing the first draft of her own book while we were at the Bushmoot.

Needless to say when Alison returned at the end of the Bushmoot she did so with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the fact that she had finished her first draft – well done darling ūüôā

Congratulations Alison

That is it from me on the subject of the 2017 Bushmoot. Thank you to Tony, Shelly, all the Mods and all the other helpers who organised everything and helped make it such a magical two weeks.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Dovetail Log Rocket Stove

In my continuing research into Log Rocket Stoves I came across a Wikipedia page called the Schwedenfeuer and in it details of a type of log rocket stove I had not come across before, with a built-in fire tray and a chimney formed by simply cutting away the inner corner of one section.

Clever though it was, though, this stove still relied on string or wire to tie the sections together. As these stoves have been around for a long time I figured there must be other ways of holding them all together. I thought perhaps that green wood dovetail wedges might do the job, so I set out to test this.

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The Dovetail Log Rocket Stove

Tools and Material

As usual I limited myself to the tools I would usually carry in my backpack, including a knife, saw and axe. A pen or pencil is handy for this project as well.

I’ve had a piece of birch stored in my garage for over a year however it had absorbed moisture over the winter and was fairly damp in its core.

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Tools

Splitting Out

This style of log rocket requires you to put a stop cut into the bottom of the log to about two thirds of its width. You can see in the top left picture below the cut is about 10 to 15 cms from what will be the bottom of the stove.

The top right picture below shoes you how far I put my stop cut into the log. The bottom two pictures show me marking out with my saw the approximate area I would be battoning out.

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Bottom cut and marking out

I used my axe and a large piece of wood to batton out the the wood. You can see the shape of the stove at this stage with one segment in an inverted ‘L’ shape (Segment¬†1) and a smaller piece (Segment 2).

The bottom two photos show me marking out the smaller piece for further splitting. This piece is not split exactly in two as this configuration allows you to form the chimney very quickly.

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Splitting

The Chimney

Below you can see the shape of all the pieces when they are put back together . I then battoned off the tip of the larger piece from Segment 2  so that a chimney would be formed. This piece of battoned-out wood I further split into fine pieces to act as kindling for the stove.

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The One Cut Chimney

Once I had the chimney battoned out I trimmed off some excess wood from Segment 1 and then used a pencil to mark out the chimney area.

I did this so I could put some Raappanan tuli cuts into the chimney area. It is important to keep the sections of the log rocket that join together as smooth as possible for a good fit so marking out the chimney area ensures I do not cut into the wrong area.

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Trimming & Marking out the chimney

The Raappanan tuli cuts are fairly simple to make with my axe. I just ensured I cut only into the wood in the chimney area and that the cuts were made upwards, towards the top of the chimney.

These cuts are particularly helpful when using damp wood as it offers far more surface area to the initial flame, allowing it to catch more quickly, and also it helps to dry the damp wood out.

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Raappanan tuli cuts

The Firebox

The next stage I worked on was the firebox opening. This can be done in a number of different way however I elected to go for a triangular opening.

I formed the opening by cutting a small triangle at the base of both pieces from Segment 2. I also tapered the inside of the cuts to open the firebox up a bit. I made this firebox slightly larger than normal as the wood was very damp. My thought was that the extra air intake would help to keep the fire going at the start before the insides of the stove became fully lit.

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The firebox opening

The Dovetail Joints

These joints were a total experiment. I put all the pieces together again and, holding them tightly, sawed a line to the depth of a centimetre across two of the joints.¬†(I recommend you use some string or maybe a belt to hold everything together as you make the cuts – I didn’t and I wished I had.)

I then did the same cut but flared my saw out slightly (about 45 degrees) to the same depth. I then repeated the cut with the saw flared out 45 degrees in the opposite direction to the original cut to the same depth (there will be a picture of the cut further down the post).

Once that was done I used my saw like a rasp to carve out all the excess wood to form what is called the dovetail ‘Tail’.

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Cutting out the ‘Tails’

Below you can see this ‘Tail’ part of the dovetail joint. It forms what I think of as a bow tie shape when done properly. The important point is to start each cut from the same place, saw to the same depth each time and ensure that the middle of the tail is centred over the split in the segments.

I found that as I had not strapped the segments together I had to really hold them firmly together – this is where you will appreciate your belt or piece of string. Also while sawing these ‘Tails’ in be aware at all times where the saw is in relation to your thumb and forefinger on the hand holding the stove.

I made three of these tails (one over each split) to hold all the segments together.

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The Tails

To hold the segments together you need to carve some ‘Pins’ to insert into the ‘Tails’. I used green hazel wood to make the pins and made sure that they were carved into a triangular shape but initially too big for the tail.

Carving in this manner allowed me to insert the pin into the tail and then progressively carve off smaller pieces from the pin until it started to slide in. I also used my large piece of wood to hammer the pins in to ensure a very tight fit.

If you find that your pin is too small just get a fresh piece of green wood and try again. They only take seconds to make. To finish the pins off I trimmed the ends with my saw.

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Cutting and inserting the ‘Pins’

As the bark of the birch tree is very flammable I stripped it all off and kept it to the side to use later as kindling to get the fire started. The dovetail joints if fitted snugly will keep all the segments locked together tightly.

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Trimming

Firing Up

I lit the stove with some Vaseline-soaked cotton wool balls (which I always carry with me) because everything was so damp. The wind was non existent that day so it took me a while to get the stove going well.

Normally these stoves fire up really easily when there’s a little bit of wind to create the rocket effect up through the chimney

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Firing up and drying out

Eventually the rocket effect started and I placed three pieces of green wood onto the top for my pot to sit on. These were fairly thin pieces but would last long enough to boil some water. Have a few pieces spare on standby though if needed.

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Green wood pot stand

Once the pot was on (about 10 minutes after initial burn) I needed to keep popping small pieces of wood into the fire box to keep the fire going. If your wood is really dry or resinous (like spruce or pine) you may not need to keep tending the fire as the internal walls of the chimney will probably be well lit.

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Now it is a stove

It took me just under 15 minutes to boil this pot of water (enough for approx 3 cups of coffee) and the dovetail joints remained strong throughout.

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Roaring

After 45 minutes the first of the joints burnt through however the stove remained standing until it burnt out. Due to the lack of wind the majority of the wood did not burn through.

I made this short video of another Dovetail Log Rocket Stove to show it in action.

I like to experiment with log rocket stoves and this reliance on using string or wire to hold them together (although you can dig the segments of some types directly into soft ground) has always bugged me.

This  Schwedenfeuer type of stove lends itself well to the dovetail joints I think,  and once you have practised making a couple you will be able to knock together a stove very quickly with just natural materials.

As usual I am open to ideas and suggestions on creating more log rocket stoves and Scandinavian candles. If you have not seen my other posts on this subject have a look at my summary post on this subject titled – Candles, Rockets and Long Fires.

Cheers

George

10 Reasons to Bushmoot – 6/10 – Meet the Moot Kids

One thing that the BCUK Bushmoot is renowned for is its kid friendly environment. The Moot provides a massive playground for both structured (by lessons) and unstructured learning (through play).

As I grew up as a kid  on the Isle of Lewis I would head on out in the morning to find adventure and return home when my stomach demanded attention. As I live in a village now that has busy roads running through it the Moot is one of the few places I know of that I am happy for my kids to go out and make their own adventures as I once did.

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Bushmoot Fun

We stress that parents are responsible for their children however we encourage a sense of adventure. I let my kids run off and play within the main area of the Moot site and under adult supervision on the massive expanse of the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr.

There are plenty of woods, dunes, trees and buildings to explore in the area around the Moot to satisfy the sense of adventure in any kid.

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Adventuring

There are workshops specifically for the kids and other workshops  where they learn alongside adults. Kids are encouraged to attend the Starter Course we run for anyone new to bushcraft or looking to work on their basic skills.

These basic skills include learning about knots, fire lighting, carving and safely using a saw (to name just a few). Wherever possible I like to get the kids learning these skills alongside their parents so that they can work together later as a family. Kids under 16 are allowed to use  knives and saws however they must be under the supervision of an adult when they are using them or carrying them.

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Key skills

Even in this digital age of the xBox and the Playstation kids are always attracted to sticks, be that the Atlatl, bows or staffs. I like to think that the classes we teach kids bring some of that make believe digital world to life without any of the violence or gore. We always teach the kids to treat these tools with respect and only to use them when permitted.

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Historical learning

My good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival has been coming to the Moot for a number of years now. Fraser is always keen to teach kids in his classes. Some of his courses include campfire baking, net making, coastal foraging and survival training.

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Fun with Fraser

One thing I love about the Moot is that it is situated on sand dunes that have over the years become a woodland. This makes for an amazing place to launch yourself of heights or climb trees. Natures own playground you could say.

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Hanging Out

There are lots of activities aimed primarily at the kids from treasure hunts with our resident Pirates under the leadership of Cap’n Badger, to craft courses and games.

One of the games I run from time to time is a stalking game. Below you can see the kids trying to leopard crawl up to get some sticks without being soaked. This is a great game to teach kids all about their senses and in particular about staying quiet in order to see more wildlife around them.

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Games

For many a year now we have had story telling sessions around the fire of an evening for the kids (and adults too). Womble is a great story teller and keeps the kids captivated with his interactive stories.

The Moot organiser is Tony Bristow and depending on the dates of the Moot his birthday sometimes falls during it. It usually is a time to bake a cake and dish it out. Needless to say Tony gets a little piece however there are many hungry little ones looking for their share ūüôā

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Stories, Cakes and Pirates

The Moot is for kids of all ages be that young at heart (yes I mean you Spikey) or taking their first steps out in the adventure of life. My kids love coming along to see their ‘Moot friends’ and I hope they will continue to do so for years to come.

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Kids – Young and not so young

Looking at the BCUK forum I see that there is talk already about organising activities for the kids for next year.

Hopefully see you there.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Double French Windlass Cooking Rig

A few years ago at the BCUK Bushmoot in South Wales I ran a class looking at different campfire cooking set ups. As well as showing the students my set ups I had asked them to bring along examples of their own if they could. One that caught my eye was from my friend Steve Mesquite Harrall. It consisted of two forked uprights and a top bar that could be turned to raise or lower a pot that was suspended beneath it on a piece of string.

Steve had learned this from Wayland of Ravenlore Bushcraft and there is a good picture of the set up on Wayland’s Ravenlore site – Hang up your Billy. Wayland told me¬†he’d got the idea from a book by the¬†French adventurer Nicolas Vanier called ‘North’. The rig did not have a name and it was Wayland who used the term French Windlass (Windlass meaning to ‘haul or lift’). I have just added the ‘Double’ so I can cook with more than one pot.

I really liked this rig when I first saw it but soon felt the need to be able to adjust the height of more than one pot at a time. You do not easily find two decent poles with a double fork in the right place to do this so I had to come up with another idea. The solution in the end was so simple that I had to laugh at my own stupidity for not thinking of it quicker Рjust make a new fork by splitting the pole above the natural fork.

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Double French Windlass Cooking Rig

The basic parts I used were one small piece of wood to make a pile driver (I’ve¬†heard this called an El Salvadorean pile driver) to create holes for the uprights, two forked uprights and two poles to act as spars.

I trimmed a point on the piece I was going to turn into my pile driver first. I used a small round of wood to act as a work surface and kept my axe work to the far side of the round for safety.

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The basic parts and the start of the El Salvadorean pile driver

Once the point was finished I put a chamfer on the top of the pile driver by cutting out little pieces of wood all around it. Doing this helps stop the pile driver from splitting as you hammer it into the ground to create your hole.

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Carving the pile driver

As the pieces I picked for the uprights were fairly thick I had plenty of wood to split to create my second fork. You need to ensure that the split you create is on the same plane as the natural fork.

To batton safely, make sure the bottom of the upright is secure and hold the axe so that the blade is at right angles to your body. I used the pile driver as a batton to create the split. Once the split reached the level of the natural fork I stopped.

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Battoning out the second fork

To stop the split going any further I whipped some twine around the upright at the base of the split. To keep the fork open you will need to add a wedge and the whipping will stop the split travelling down the upright when it is inserted.

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A little whipping

I took one of the spars and carved a triangular end to it – the thin end of this will be the wedge to hold open the split in which the spar will sit.

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Carving the wedge

I used the pile driver to batton the wedge down into the new fork until it reached the whipping. Then it was a case of just trimming the wedge to finish.

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Inserting and trimming the wedge

I felt that my fork needed to be a little bit wider still so with my knife I cut out some wood from inside the fork. Once that was done it was a case of giving the upright a pointed end and trimming off any knobbly/sharp pieces from it.

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Widening the fork, pointing and trimming

The second upright was produced in the exact same manner and they were soon both ready to go.

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Finished uprights

The rig works on the principle that the weight of the pot locks the spar into the forks on the uprights. To make this work you need to carve triangular-shaped ends to your spars (Wayland likens this to a prism shape on his blog). I ensured that the points of the triangles at each end of the spars matched up with each other. Take your time with this and before each cut ensure they are lined up.

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Carved triangular shaped ends on both spars

The ground where I was testing this out was at the back of our garden in an area that was about to be weeded and planted so it was a little soft but even so if I had just hammered the upright into the ground it would have split the top fork. The pile driver came into its own here as I was able to really hammer it into the ground (try and make your pile driver slightly smaller in diameter to the upright to get a snug fit) and create a hole for the upright.

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Use the pile driver to create a hole for the first upright

Once the first upright was in I gauged the distance to where I needed to put the other upright in using one of the spars and repeated the process starting with the pile driver and then gently tapping in the upright.

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Gently tap in the first upright and repeat the process for the second upright

Check your alignment is correct by lining up the forks and place both spars into their forks. I tested the spars were locked in place by trying to turn them gently. No need to force them as the weight of your pots will lock them down further.

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Check your alignment, place the second spar and ensure they lock well

I took this shot to show you how the spars fit into the forks. All very basic but works surprisingly well.

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Locked in

To suspend the pots I used some old string and tied it on with a clove hitch  and then a couple of overhand knots to finish. I did not make them overly tight because I wanted to be able to release them easily  to re-position them. Once that was done I attached the hooks. Use whatever knots you are comfortable with but make sure they and your string will hold the weight of your pots when full.

If you are worried that the string will burn then dampen it with some water (avoid string that will melt easily). I have never had the string burn through as when I am cooking I do not let flames grow big enough to go near it. Also when starting your fire ensure that the spars are not in place so that the initial flames do not burn the string.

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Use a clove hitch and tie on your hook. Add one to both spars.

Once you are cooking it is very easy to lift and rotate one of the spars to raise or lower a pot by winding or unwinding the string. As we were boiling some water in the Dutch oven I got my daughter to help me but if the pot is light enough then you can do this easily by yourself.

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To adjust the height lift the spar and turn it a few times

I also use another style of pot hook quite often (I learnt this from one of Ray Mears’s videos) which involves the use of a lark’s foot knot. All you need is a small loop of string that is able to go around the spar and through itself to leave a smaller loop to insert a traditional adjustable pot hook. To raise the pot all you need to do is loosen the lark’s foot and re-position it on another hook.

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Alternative method with a larks foot and traditional pot hook

This is the set up from various angles so you can see how all works in more detail.

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An angled view

I am glad I finished this little project as it has been on my list of things to do for a while now. It is a great set up that does not take long to do and it’s an easy way to cook foods that requires different temperatures at different stages.

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Egg Banjo and a Brew

Cheers

George

Wet and Windy – Getting comfy in the woods

The cadets knuckled down, worked hard, had great fun and made things comfy for themselves – that’s bushcrafting for you.

The end of October last year found me down at Crowborough Army camp in the Ashdown Forest. I set up a bushcraft area in the woods near for the camp to run a course to introduce some of our younger Sea Cadets to bushcraft.

Helping me on the weekend were Dave Lewis and Charlie Brookes (and at different times Christine Weston and Emma Deasy).

The weekend’s weather was pretty poor to say the least with a lot of rain and some quite high winds.

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A team of hardened Sea Cadet Bushcrafters

The high winds were a concern for me so I told the cadets that sleeping in hammocks over the weekend was not an option. A few were upset but soon got on with things. The cadets ended up sleeping in their tents in the grounds of the main camp nowhere near any trees.
They had to set up the main tarps to work under, after a bit of instruction on knots they were left to their own devices and managed to get two big tarps up by themselves.

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They had to set up their own campsite

Once the tarps were up the cadets had to collect dry wood from the surrounding area. As it had been raining heavily there was very little in the way of dry wood lying around so we taught them how to identify dead standing wood. Thankfully the woodland had been coppiced in the past and left untouched for many years so there were plenty of dead standing coppice poles in the area.
Once all the wood had been collected and graded it was time to play with some firesteels.

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Learning how to use a fire steel

(NB The light levels in the woodland were poor and I only had my phone camera to hand so some of the pictures have been brightened slightly or have had the colours in them deepened slightly.)
Once they got the hang of lighting char cloth the cadets experimented with other tinders such as pampas grass and birch bark.

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Practising using different tinders

Everything was very damp but the cadets persevered and eventually had two good fires going to get a hot brew on. As we were running the course in the woodland within the grounds of the camp all the cadets were being fed from the main camp galley. This freed us up to concentrate on different bushcraft activities without having to worry about getting food cooked over the open fires.

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They kept persevering through all the rain

One of these activities was to introduce the cadets to a bit of safe knife use. After discussing safety issues and the legalities of using a knife, the cadets learnt how to carve themselves a small wedge. I like this simple activity as it involves using a variety of carving techniques.

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Good knife safety was practised

The cadets practised cutting techniques safely, making cuts away from themselves and in front of them or off to the side. We spent a good hour trying out different cuts and everyone managed to finish their wedges.

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Working well off to the side

The wedges were needed because the next lesson was about battoning – where you use your knife more like an axe to split small logs. I did a demonstration to the class showing the whole process and then we split into two groups to let the cadets have a go themselves.

I find battoning is best done kneeling down and with the use of a stump on which to rest the piece of wood that needs to be split.
The knife is positioned on top of the piece of wood at 90 degrees to the body and the back of the blade is struck with the ‘hammer’ (a small but weighty stick) so that the edge of the blade is driven into the wood. I published an article on¬†knife safety¬†last year that covers battoning in more detail.

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Later we introduced the cadets to the art of battoning

Here you can see that the knives have been driven well into the wood and the wedges are now being used to widen the split further.

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Dave and Charlie led one class while I led the other

The cadets got the hang of it pretty quickly and were soon splitting the wood down.

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Using the knife and then the wedge to batton

Here the knife has been removed and the cadets are using the stump to help drive the wedge into the wood to split it.

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Hammering the wood and wedge into a stump to split the wood

Later that afternoon we started on two shelters. Normally I would ask for volunteers to try and sleep out in them but due to the high winds I did not offer the cadets the option this time. The weather was quite cold, but this activity kept them moving and warm.

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An early start to shelter building

It was not until well after dark that I called a halt to the shelter building but they did a good job and worked well together.

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They worked well into the evening

Even though the weather was not kind to them and we worked them hard there was still time to play and chill out around the fire with a marshmallow or two.

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Plenty of time to just play and chill with a marshmallow

We stayed a couple of hours around the fire before sending the cadets back to the main camp and getting our own heads down. All the instructors stayed in the woods with our hammocks and it was a slightly ‘swaying’ night to say the least with lots of creaking from the trees above us.

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An evening around the fire

Charlie had a brew on first thing and also showed the cadets how to use the Kelly Kettles safely.

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The day starts with a brew

There was time for a couple of posed pictures in front of the shelters before the cadets dismantled them both and scattered the debris back around the site so as to leave no trace of them. Apart from becoming unstable if left up, shelters tend to attract rodents to the site (since it’s not just humans who seek shelter) ¬†– so down they came.

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A few daylight shots of their shelters before dismantling them

For the next couple of hours it was time for Atlatls, bows and stalking games.

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A morning of games including Atlatls and Bows

Once the cadets got their eye in some had pretty good groupings.

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Some good groupings

Even the staff managed to get a shoot in ūüôā

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Not that the staff were competitive ūüėČ

Even though the cadets did not get to use the hammocks and tarps this time we did get some out for them to try.

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Checking out tarps and hammocks

The final part of the weekend was to return the campsite to the condition we found it in, if not better. This was the easy part of the weekend as the teams were now working well together and everything was stripped down and packed away quickly.

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Wrap up and home time

I hope to run one or two more bushcraft courses for the cadets this year and give them the chance to sleep out in a hammock.

Even though the weather was against us this time the cadets knuckled down, worked hard, had great fun and made things comfy for themselves – that’s bushcrafting for you.

Cheers

George

How To…. Carve a Lovelock Cave Atlatl

One of my favourite Atlatls is the Lovelock Cave Atlatl. I made this Atlatl a few years ago using modern tools including a Mora knife, a small carving knive, a flex gouge chisel and sandpaper.

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My reproduction Lovelock Cave Atlatl – Top Profile
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My reproduction Lovelock Cave Atlatl – Side Profile

The original Atlatl was found in a cave over a century ago but was soon lost; thankfully, though, not before someone had made a detailed drawing of it. Lovelock Cave was previously known as the Sunset Guano Cave, the Horseshoe Cave and Loud Site 18. A good paper on the archaeological digs on the site was written by Phoebe. A. Hearst from the Museum of Anthropology (University of California Berkeley).

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Lovelock Cave – Humboldt Sink USA

A copy of the drawing is shown below: I found this in a post by Mike Richardson on the Split Stick Atlatl, who also writes that the original was 17 inches long. I reproduced the Atlatl as closely to the drawing as I could.

It has a fork at the rear and the drawing shows a small groove around each prong. I have read that this was where a small piece of carved wood or bone known as a spur was attached as a point to hold the Atlatl. I decided though to see if the Atlatl would work with just some cordage wrapped around it. There is no historical evidence that this was done but it does work well. A good comparison of both attachment types on this Atlatl can be read in the PaleoPlanet forum here. A further project for me on this Atlatl is to make a spur for it.

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Drawing 1

Knowing that the original was 17 inches long, I made a best guess at the other dimensions. The original Atlatl that was lost was made of Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) but as this wood is not available in the UK I opted to use a piece of Siver Birch (Betulus pendula) as I had some available and it is easy to carve. The wood I had ready was only 16 1/2 inches long (422 mm to be exact) so using that as a starter and the drawing as a guide I scaled up all the other dimensions as shown below.

Dimensions of my reproduction
Dimensions of my reproduction

This was a beautiful Atlatl to carve as the finished lines are very smooth and pleasing to the eye. The top picture (below)  is a close up of the handle of my reproduction. The final shape gives a surprisingly good grip even when smoothed down.

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A beautiful slim design

I split my log down to a rectangular shape and then using my dimensions drew out the shape of the Atlatl. After that I marked stop cuts along the whole length of the Atlatl and cut into them with my saw, finishing a couple of millimeters from the outline. These are useful to have in place to stop any splits from running off down the length of the Atlatl when you carve it.

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Draw out the profile and place stop cuts

I battoned out the rough profile first using only my knife and a small branch as a hammer. I did the battoning with the work piece placed on a log in front of me. I kept the blade of the knife at 90 degrees to my body as I hit it so that if the knife slipped it would swing away from my body. See my post on Knife Safety Tips for more detail on this.

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Batton off the excess

Then using my knife I trimmed the excess wood down to the line, keeping the work piece well in front of me to avoid any potential cuts from the knife if it slipped.

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Tidy up the profile with a knife

Using two more stop cuts I carved out the thumb and forefinger grip area.

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Carve out the thumb and forefinger grip

Then it was a case of roughly carving the handle area down to a size comfortable for my hand. I also started to carve out the protruding areas above  and below the thumb and forefinger grip area.

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Roughly carve out the handle shape

I worked on the bottom of the tail next, carving a flat area near the handle and then carving out an elongated bowl shape to the tail. No need to worry too much about perfection at this stage as the sanding will produce the final shape.

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Roughly carve out the underside of the tail

I tapered the tail area all the way to the end making a flat section of the final 8 cms (this will form the prong).

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Taper the carving all the way to the end of the tail

On the top of the tail I marked out with my knife tip a 1 cm wide by 23 cm long spear shape that would form the bowl for the dart to rest in.

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Mark out the top slot for the dart to rest in

I used a Flex Cut Gouge for carving the bowl area and my small carving knife for carving the prongs. This is the really tricky area of carving Рyou have to be particularly careful as it is very easy for the knife to slip.

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Roughly carve out the slot for the dart to rest in and carve the fork out at the end

Once I’d carved the basic shape I used various sandpapers from about 40 grit to about 1000 grit to smooth everything.

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Sand the whole Atlatl down using rough paper working up to very fine grades

Before I added the false sinew to the tail I oiled the Atlatl a couple of times and then boned it with a small pebble. Using a small pebble to rub the Atlatl wood down for a couple of hours smooths the wood fibres down and traps the oil in the wood. The whole process of boning really gives a smooth finish.

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Add any oils (I used vegetable oil) and bone it smooth with a small pebble

The finished profiles of the Atlatl.

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Tail, side and bottom profiles

The handle has a very unusual shape but gives you a fantastic grip.

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Handle profiles

It is easy to flick with an open grip as the thumb and forefinger grooves keep the Atlatl fixed in the correct position in a throw.

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Works with an open grip

As I carved the handle to fit my palm it makes for a very comfortable closed grip.

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Works with a closed grip

After carving little notches around each prong I wrapped false sinew to the tail using a Constrictor knot. I kept it fairly tight but you may wish to experiment here. As I said earlier there is nothing in the archaeological record to prove this method was used but after experimenting with other Atlatls like the Split Stick method I see no reason why it could not have been used if a point was not available.

The problem with cordage however is that when you are in the act of throwing a dart, various forces are exerted on it. As you release the dart will flex/bend, and the cordage may cause the tail of the dart (fixed in place by the cordage) to go out of line with the point of the dart, thus decreasing accuracy. Having a point at the rear of the Atlatl holding the tail of the dart in place allows the tail to rotate with the point as it flexes during a throw, maintaining the dart’s accuracy. Chris from Paleoarts explains it well in a post on the Paleoplanet site. ¬†I will be experimenting with attaching a bone or wooden spur to the Atlatl in future.

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False Sinew wrap at the tail to hold the dart

I am left handed and even though the shape of the handle is designed for a right hander (the slightly protruding piece of the handle to trap the thumb and the smoothed corner to fit in the palm) it is very comfortable still to shoot left handed.

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Cordage wrap tail – No archaeological record of this

I enjoyed making this Atlatl and shooting it over the last few years. It would be great to see some more of this style being reproduced as there are so few to be found.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Bhutanese Bow

Back in August of 2012 at the BCUK Bushmoot¬†I learnt how to make a Bhutanese Bow with Wayne Jones of Forest Knights. As far as I know Wayne is the only instructor in the UK running classes in making this type of bow. I hope he runs another one at this year’s Moot.

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The Bamboo Bhutanese Bow

This is a quick bow to make when you have an instructor like Wayne to guide you. The bow is made up of two pieces of tapered bamboo joined together in the middle by some sort of cordage or tape around the handle area. I tried to take pictures of all the steps but must admit to missing a few as I got so wrapped up in the whole process. To make up for this I rehandled the bow at home and took some pictures of the missing steps.

I have done a bit of research about this type of bow. It seems that archery is a national sport in Bhutan with many villages in the country running archery competitions. Kids as young as three are taught how to use the bow. Due to the nature of bamboo the outer layer of the bamboo becomes the belly of the bow and the inner part becomes the back: as the outer layer is very hard it will not take the expansion forces exerted as you draw the bow (it will crack), but as it is a grass the inner area (which is fibrous) is more flexible.

Below on the left is a picture of the finished (reworked) bow and on the right Spikey is holding the tube of bamboo we used to make it.

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The finished article and how we started

Wayne Jones researched the bow for me as well and found this in the Bowyers Bible: ‘Unless the bamboo wall is unusually thick it‚Äôs best to overlap two billets at the grip secured by a couple of rivets made of nails or dowels, the grip is then wrapped with rawhide, sinew or even tape. Overlapping stiffens the midbow and increases poundage per bow length. Such bows can be made in minutes. Even though ‚Äúquickie‚ÄĚ bows, they are excellent in every regard.

This design is a good choice for kids’ bows: quick and easy to make, and fairly indestructible.’

Wayne brought a supply of large bamboo to the Moot for us to use. With this type of bow you need to use very large bamboo so that when you split it into quarters you get fairly flat limbs. I do not know the type of bamboo that was used or where Wayne sourced it but I am sure if you were to ask him he would help you.

In the first picture below Wayne is showing us two limbs made from one piece of bamboo he had carved earlier. As bamboo gets thinner as it grows higher you need to make both limbs from the same piece of the column to ensure both limbs are of the same width and thickness.

I cut out a section of tube that was 103 cms long to begin with so that when the two limbs were joined together the bow would be my height. NB I am not 2m 6cms tall, but as the limbs overlap at the handle these measurements produced a bow of my height. You will need to experiment for yourself.

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Finished limbs and start of the bow

I used an axe to batton out the bamboo into quarters and selected the best two pieces to work with. I made sure when I was battoning that I kept the blade of the axe at 90 degrees to my body. This would ensure that if the axe slipped out of the split it would swing away from me.

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Battoning out the limbs

Here you can see many of the battoned-out pieces of bamboo ready to be shaped into limbs. You can clearly see the node plates on the inside of each limb, which keep the structure rigid. These need to be knocked off and eventually filed flat.

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In this picture you can see Mark using the back of his axe to knock off each piece of the node plates.

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Breaking the node plates

To make full use of each limb it is best to use string to mark out its shape. Allow an extra half centimetre or so so you can finely trim the limb after you have axed the shape out. I made the handle area (thicker end) about 5 cms wide and the tip of the limb (thinner end) about 3 cms wide. Once you have blanked out the first limb you can use this one to mark out the second limb so it is the same shape.

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Using string to draw the limb shape

Keeping the limb to one side of my body, I experimented first with using an axe to cut the excess off but soon swapped it for a large chopping knife loaned to me by my friend Sargey (Andy Sergeant). This was so sharp with such a good weight behind it that I soon had the first limb blanked out. I then used a smaller knife to trim the limb down to the line I had marked with the string. I used this finished limb to mark out my second limb and repeated the whole process until I had two roughed-out limbs.

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Shaping the limbs

I used various tools such as my Japanese rasp, a cabinet scraper, a small knife and wood files to smooth out what was left of the node plates and to curve all the edges of the limbs. If you do not smooth off all the edges, you don’t just risk a splinter, there’s a good chance your finished bow will develop a split when you draw it.

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Smoothing the plates

Take your time smoothing the plates and edges down.

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Smoothed plates and sides

The outer layer of the bamboo is left untouched and this will become the belly of the bow. The smoothed inner side will become its back.

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The belly (left) is left untouched – The back (right) is smoothed

I used a rounded file to produce the nocks to hold the bow string. Make sure you get them the right way round.

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Nocks produced with a round file

Make sure the edges of the nocks are sanded down so there are no sharp edges. A sharp edge will potentially cut your bow string and could cause a split to occur.

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Lined up neatly and the edges rounded off

When I first built this bow I left the handle area as you see it in the picture below. After shooting the bow I found the handle area just too wide for a comfortable grip.

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Ready to work the handle area

I marked out one handle so I would lose 1 cm on each side, making the actual handle 3 cms wide. Then with a sharp knife I carved out the excess.

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Mark your handle area on one limb, trim off the excess and then use the first limb to mark out the second limb

I then used the first carved handle to mark out the second handle and carved that one as well.

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Trim off the excess from the second limb and you are ready to join them together

To take this picture I got my son Finlay to hold the tape taut and my wife Alison rolled the bow to tape the limbs together.

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I used help to bind the handle. Keep the tape taut and roll the limbs

This method ensures the limbs stay in the correct position and the tape is put on as firmly as possible. Once I had the limbs secured I taped up the middle of the handle by myself.

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Secure both ends

I find that the tape does not offer a good grip so I put on a leather handle using a common whipping technique.

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Finish taping the handle and add any leather for a comfortable handle

Tillering is the process of testing the bow to see if it forms a balanced curve on each limb. Initially we had just a piece of paracord attached to the bow to do this. The tillering stick in the picture allows you to see if the limbs are balanced. If they are not balanced you need to remove a small amount of the inner side of the bamboo using a light rasp or cabinet scraper wherever the limb looks stiffest. This is one part of the process that is very hard to show without taking a whole string of pictures and probably where going on a course and getting one-to-one tuition on it pays dividends. Dick Baugh wrote a good article on tillering on the Primitive Ways website that is worth a read.

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Tillering

Wayne supplied some Dacron for our bow strings. I twisted one end as you would do to make cordage and used that to make a timber hitch for one end of the bow.

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Timber hitch

For the other end I created a loop using the Flemish twist method. Sam Harper in his blog Poor Folk Bows has an excellent article including a video on making the Flemish twist and the timber hitch.

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Flemish twist

The finished bow. This was taken after I had reshaped the handle. I plan to wrap the exposed tape in strips of rawhide to cover them up.

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Ready to shoot

I like this bow much better now that I have rehandled it as it is far more comfortable to hold. I think some more of the cadets will also want to use it now because of the reduced handle size.

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Shoots well

A nice shot of the bow in action with an arrow in flight.

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In action with the cadets – Spot the arrow.

If I could ever source some of this bamboo I would definitely make one or two more. In comparison to my Ash Flatbow and Holmegaard this bow shoots just as well but took only a fraction of the time to make.

If you have further information or links on this type of bow I would love to hear from you.

Cheers

George